I think we all recognize that poverty in our nation has increased in the past three years, but what is not so much discussed is that it has been increasing steadily over the past 10 years. In the past 10 years, millions of Americans who work full-time have consistently fallen below the poverty line and it is almost as though they are unemployed as well.
Any person who works full-time responsibly in this country should be able to earn enough to rise above the poverty line and have decent healthcare. Our President and the Democratic congress took care of the latter and now it is time to address the former. No economic system based on having 37 million of it’s citizens(as of 2007) living in poverty or only 1%-5% holding the most wealth can survive. There needs to be an honest critique of capitalism in this country. The McCarthyism that derides anyone who dares to question the perfection of unbridled capitalism needs to be confronted and soon.
Shortly after LBJ took office, he declared a “war on poverty”. Through his efforts of abatement our country implemented Head Start, Medicare and Medicaid. This war was fought on many fronts by people who recognized that poverty has many causes and consequences and it was a noble war that spoke to the deepest spiritual beliefs of the American people. How much more successful would George Bush and his Republican led congress have been had they declared a “war on poverty” instead of their “war on terror”?
Since the days of LBJ the war on poverty has gradually mutated into a war against the poor, a punative approach that places pressure on the “least of these”, our fellow Americans. Today we need a 21rst Century version of the War on Poverty. And we cannot just expect the government to fight it alone, it needs to be a partnership between the Private sector and Government. With Healthcare signed into law, we now need to look at seriously reforming education(which President Obama has already started) and we need to deal with the minimum wage. We need to learn to deal with poverty more agressively when it arises and to prevent poverty before it starts.
Why is it that some people will excuse their lack of action by replying, “there will always be the poor among us”?
The injustices of an individual working full time at minimum wage, only to be rewarded with poverty, is not what this nation was founded on. An individual working full time at the current national minimum wage, $7.25 per hour as of summer 2009, will earn $15,370.00 prior to taxes. Forget benefits because most employers who pay minimum wage do not provide benefits. Add to that single worker the scenario of a single mother with two children and I think the picture becomes quite depressing very quickly. What is the cost of a healthcare premium for one year, what about food, clothing and shelter? It is very clear from the chart of minimum wage increases since 1955 which party has done the most on behalf of the workers, and it still has not been enough.
Far from getting ahead, minimum wage workers have been steadily falling behind for at least the past 10 years. As of 2006, the minimum wage had not been adjusted since 1997, so for 9 years it steadily lost it’s value. During this same time pay for Congress went from $133k per year to $174k in 2009. The increase alone amounted to nearly triple the annual income for a full time minimum wage worker(using only 2009 figures), if you go back the numbers are worse, much worse. Tom Delay, an ardent opponent of increasing the minimum wage, made this statement in 2005 on a pay raise for congress
“It’s not a pay raise,” said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. “It’s an adjustment so that they’re not losing their purchasing power.” and made this plea on the floor of congress, “Mr. Speaker, I will tell you something, Members of this House have families. They have 2 homes, in most cases. Some members are living in their offices because they cannot afford a second residence…..I am not making excuses or apologizing, it is difficult to raise a family and serve in Congress….My wife and my children suffer enough.”
Really? Are you kidding me, Really? At least we don’t have knowledge of DeLay staying at C Street, because that would make his plea even more insidious. What about the purchasing power of millions of Americans, do they not count? I am sure the members of Congress have a hard time making it but a fast food worker cannot even afford one home, much less two. I doubt if Congress’ suffering is going to make America’s top 10 list of America’s most disadvantaged groups. I am not saying they do not deserve the pay they get, and some might disagree with me on that, but don’t deny the same fair treatment to other Americans.
If corporations had been stagnant during this time period, you might be able to justify the mimimum wage, but that is not the case. In fact when the “to big to fail” Banks nearly took our economy over the cliff they received attention within days and not much discussion was allowed prior to the “bottom falling out of our economy”. And despite the tax benefits to Corporate America, they have been steadily moving operations offshore where they can pay a worker $0.50 an hour, if that. Our manufacturing base has nearly disappeared and the United States is quickly turning into a “service industry” society. Toga parties, conferences at posh resorts, parties in Las Vegas, have all been taken on the backs of the poor in this country. Inequality, we all know, is surging. This erosion is neither an accident nor the product of apathy, it is the result of a deliberate policy choice of the right.
Maury Weidenbaum, one of Ronald Reagan’s Economic Advisors once said:
If we had our druthers, we would have eliminated the minimum wage.
Former Congressman from Pennsylvania, Bob Edgar, commented on this saying:
Since that would have been such a “painful political process”, he and other officials were content to let inflation turn the mimimum wage into an “effective dead letter”.
My question is where and how did the United States breed such distasteful and evil people? Like Teddy Kennedy asked of the Senate, “Have you no shame?” Look at the Republican record(link above) when they hold the majority in congress. What about the recent extension of unemployment, their stand on the recent jobs bill? Do these members of Congress really have a bead on the public sentiment or have they spent so much time in the Beltway that they are immune to what happens in the real world? Do they ever wonder about that worker who hands them a sandwich for their lunch and how they might be surviving? The Right has two myths regarding the minimum wage; 1) increasing the minimum wage would destroy millions of jobs and 2) nobody actually earns the minimum wage, except for teenagers. The contradictions of these two myths is amazing. Millions of jobs have been sent overseas anyway and far more adults in this day are making minimum wage, and for millions more the minimum wage sets a floor that determines their pay. Sometime when you have a few hours to spend, peruse the want ads, you will find entry level jobs for college graduates with at least a Bachelor of Arts starting not much higher than $30k a year, for High School graduates, it is around $20k, if you can find many these days.
Those working at or below minimum wage perform some of the most important jobs in our society, home health aides to the elderly and daycare workers for our children. What about the hospitality industry? Without them, these CEO’s couldn’t sleep in their “heavenly beds” in a hotel room that is clean as a whistle, nor could they entertain their important clients at the many restaurants in this country. Who would stock the shelves in our stores, keep the offices clean, clean the pools, keep their golf courses groomed, provide the laundry services for their hospital beds? Who would do all of this in the absence of minimum wage workers? You can bet the wealthy would be complaining if these workers were suddenly gone and they would not feel the least bit bad about it, in fact they would find a 1000 ways to justify their whining and complain about the welfare roles.
Rewarding a hard day’s work with poverty is an abomination, but what we have not done is to frame a living wage as a “values issue”. These workers work as hard as any other American. We see them everyday, we smile, they smile back but the heartache and sturggles they face at home are invisible to us. The minimum wage should be framed as a values issue in that it must be a living wage that properly reflects the cost of housing, food and other needs in individual markets. A living wage in Arkansas would not be a living wage in New York or Los Angeles and should be adjusted based on the demographic.
In some states responsible people have stood up for these people, led by grassroots activists, and minimum wage increases were passed by overwhelming margins. In California the minimum wage as of January 1, 2008 was $8.00 an hour, $.75 above the national wage but still not enough. There is an old African proverb that reads:
If you want to walk fast, walk alone. If you want to go far, walk together.
The 9th Psalm verses 17-18 says:
The wicked bought a one way ticket to hell. For the needy shall not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the poor perish forever.
Government and Private Industry need to work together, they need to “go far” not “go fast”. So when the far right pulls out their “government is not the answer”, tell them it is the only institution capable of compelling corporations and individuals to observe the rules of fair play in the marketplace. I don’t think the poor and middle class in this country want a big share of the wealth redistributed, they just want a fighting chance.
SueinCA – this is powerful. The Congressman you cited, Bob Edgar, went on to head the National Council of Churches and now is CEO of Common Cause. Delay was one of the reasons he left government. ONE of the reasons. General policies of screwing the working people – the middle class – to benefit the rich have disillusioned him and other good elected officials.
It’s not just minimum wage but all income for the middle class that has failed to keep pace with costs and that has been squashed while upper incomes have soared. In his wonderful 2003 book, “Perfectly Legal” David Cay Johnston noted that the median wage in 2000, calculated in real dollars, was $25 per year LESS than it was in 1970. Thirty years, and the median wage FELL per capita. We now calculate income by FAMILY income because most households take two incomes to support. We look more prosperous because we shifted the analysis from one income to two. In 1973 you could do very well on the median of $27,060, but how well could you live on $27,035 in 2000? Not even a single person thrived.
I’d recommend Johnston’s book because he calculates the breath-taking escalation of upper incomes as well. And in his following book, “Free Lunch” he additionally examines all the other ways capitalism has shoved risk taking downward on all of us and from the handful of uber rich.
We need to challenge capitalism as it pretends to operate today – entirely subsidized by government handouts sucked up out of our wallets. Sure we have “free enterprise” – it’s free to the capitalists because, as we can see from the past two years, WE take the risks. It’s not free to US. It’s as if the entire upper stratum adopted Leona Helmsley’s motto: “only the poor pay taxes.” The Queen of Mean and Gordon Grecko from the film, “Wall Street” were meant to be cautionary tales, but instead they became the icons for this past generation of high flying operators.
Enough. I am in some sympathy with the working men and women drawn to the tea party folks, but I’m also fed up that they have SO little recognition that the majority are smug, cared for upper middle class people who want to give nothing up that they’ve culled off our back for themselves. Those who are truly in pain – jobless, poorly trained and educated – have NO reason to be in the tea party movement that is supported by people who see them for what they are – suckers.
How do we turn this around? The evidence of greed and corruption at the top is everywhere, and you still find people gouged by the system defending the system.
GROW needs a solid message here. It may be left to us to craft a new set of ideas and a new way of reaching out. If those who have been hurt the most refuse to see the system for what it is, I despair of every getting this nation back.
Sue, here’s an excellent article that sums up Arizona politics and how the Republican Governor and Republican majority legislature is wasting money on joining the suit against HIR, while denying poor Arizonan’s health care –
The hight of hypocrisy. I loved the title.
Somehow when they people get their “saved” groove going, they turn into monsters. Then they wonder why people don’t believe their “chatter”. It is amazing.
Sue, thanks for the post– it is something that, despite all the talk of unemployment, is often ignored.
The disparity between wage earners and the top 1% has never been greater, even at the start of the Great Depression. How people can justify this only show the degree to which we have lost a moral compass. it is unacceptable!
But wages are only one problem– another is off-shoring. Companies will try to offshore as much as they can, and would offshore housing starts if they could. And not only shipping jobs overseas, but our appetite for cheap foreign goods as well.
To me Walmart is the perfect example of the vicious cycle: They pay poorly, sell cheaply and ruin companies who might charge a reasonable price for their goods. Consumers too poor to afford properly priced items shop at Walmart, ruining their own earning power in the process.
Overall, Walmart treats it’s employees like crap — like slave labor. It’s disgusting and I very rarely, if ever, shop there.
Read my reply to Sue. Federated/Macy’s and whatever else they own now are a dirty little secret as well.
IMHO if a country off-shores their manufacturing, they should pay heavier taxes. We are also too free with our trade agreements. China floods our market and we cannot do likewise. But it is all a part of the Politician’s work, they do not think beyond the here and now and the deal of the moment. I know what you mean about the slave labor, Kathy Lee only cried when she got caught.
You need people, not lawyers, in politics who know how to work with projections, risk forcasts, statistics and negotiations who are watching out for the bottom line of our people, not another country. You can always find a lawyer to bring in on the side for contract review, just look at the bottom of the river or behind an ambulance.
Cher and Sue – we actually PAY corporations to abandon our manufacturing and other businesses then pay again to help these poor fictitious persons locate overseas. You want to keep companies here? Let’s stop paying them to abandon this nation. If they want to go, then GO, but not on our dime.
Nothing “free” about “free enterprise” when every jot and tittle they do is subsidized by taxpayers. Why reward companies for closing down? Is that not the true “moral hazard” of letting all risk go without penalty? These idiots say if you give people health care they will happily cut off a foot, but that nonsense does not remotely meet the test of “moral hazard” since losing a foot is itself totally unacceptable to the person with the foot. But if you tell a corporation they can MAKE MONEY by shutting down, well it’s someone ELSE’s job on the line, someone ELSE’s community that is affected, but it’s YOUR bottom line that gets rewarded. Now that is a true “moral hazard”.
We need to stop paying failure. We need to reward work and real earnings. We have, over the past 40 years, totally undermined the ‘risk reward’ basis of capitalism and made it entirely risk free for the big guys (little guys and gals still take risk then the big guys gobble them up – no risk, all reward.)
China is flooding our markets on US-based orders. If American companies demand China produces all the shoes and trinkets we used to make here, why should the US corporations placing those orders be subsidized by us? That makes smaller less competitive business without foreign trade undermine themselves by subsidizing the big guys. Displaced workers are paying taxes to BE displaced.
We need to let people know it’s not the Chinese who are at fault – it’s the US producers looking for a higher profit from low, low, low wages. That is fine – so long as we do not PAY them to leave, free them to re-import goods with no barriers, and allow them to abandon communities and working people with impunity.
We CAN stop this by demanding that capitalism really return to its fundamental principles – you get rewards BECAUSE you took risk. Any other input of tax money is, well, socialism…
C’lady, I honestly didn’t realize what a self-defeating policy this is! Thank you for that information!
Here’s something I found kind of shocking: I read your comment and went to Google for more info. The first site that appeared from my query was Phyllis Schaffely’s Eagle Forum!!Here’s what that old reprobate says:
Blew me away, because EVERY SINGLE THING she listed, she and her ilk are opposed to here!
(a) low wages– she is for that
(b) employee benefits– she is against that
(c) safety and environmental regulations– she is against those
(d) pay foreign taxes– she wants the same low taxes here
Once again, we see the hypocrisy and fuzzy thinking from the far Right.
I worked in retail for about 6 weeks and left. It was not that the employer, JCPenney was so bad, but at the store level they had no control over their supervisors. When I was in training, the trainer told me not to worry about the little things about the floor because I would probably be tapped for management soon. I had worked at their distribution center for 4 years in Nevada. Despite telling her I was not interested, she told the girl I was working for the same. I guess she was afraid I was gunning for her job because while I was supposed to have children’s and infants for merchandising she started sending me to the dirty stockroom and giving me incorrect info on sales. The day before Christmas Eve, she told me Merry Christmas as I was leaving the store I told her the same and I was not coming back. Her jaw dropped and I later called the asst manager of the store and told him why.
I did not have much interaction with the customers because I was in merchandising, but I was totally appalled at the shape of their storeroom. I hesitate to buy clothes there to this day, LOL.
Did you notice the prayer requests jar at the end of that PBS piece on unemployment?
I started out on the floor at Macy’s although it wasn’t Macy’s at the time — it was a local retailer owned by “Papa Federated Dept. Stores.”
(Federated and Macy’s completely obliterated a wonderfully charming company — totally.
I then became and ASM (Asst. Sales Mgr.) which ultimately, was a “tattle tale” position. I refused to tattle and was black listed. However, they let me combine 2 part time positions(sale set/signing & merchandising) into 1 full time. Needless to say, they eliminated that one with the next round of layoffs shortly after they gobbled up Kauffman’s. In one fell swoop, they eliminated 5 full time positions with ~100 years of service with the company. It’s been 4 years since the severance, and to this day, I refuse to buy anything at Macy’s, although I’ve walked through the store just for a look see. They replaced 5 excellent full time employees who cared about what they did with 10 part timers who could give a flying fig — and it shows — it shows.
And yes, I saw the prayer requests, but they never said anything about it. I need to watch it again — was it held at a church or something?
*EDIT* As far as unemployment went/goes, figure 1/2 of 10.66/hour. Plus there was no withholding, but one paid dearly come IRS time. How can anyone live on that? The really sad part? Three of my coworkers had been there at least 25 years and were only earning .40-.50 cents/hour more than me.
When I was at Visa, Federated Stores was the account none of my project managers wanted to have, along with kohls. They knew nothing about the processing business, debit or credit and expected everything to teach them. They could never get “keys” correct and would yell at everyone at Visa when we tested them and they did not work. They had no idea how their own front end worked and they were trying to make connections to the Visa data center. They were a nightmare until I put my foot down and told them to stop harassing our employees. Then they were all like, “who Us?”.
The worst customer visit I ever had was with Federated. They had a software vendor who never processed debit and were trying to learn from us, then they planned to knock us out of the game. I fixed them when I advised none of our proprietary information could be released without Federated signatures that they would not pass on the info to a third party.
Sue, do you think part of the mentality that the poor “deserve their plight” comes from, to a degree, right wing fundamentalism.
One of the things I always have respected about Catholicism is the respect and compassion for the poor and the downtrodden, but from fundamentalism, I sense more of an attitude that the wealthy are wealthy because they’re in God’s good graces, and the poor deserve to be poor for some reason — be it wickedness, or bad choices, or stupidity, whatever.
You hit the nail on the head. I tried to keep the RR out of this one because of my previous series, didn’t want to seem obsessed you know? But you are absolutely right. I find it strange that they go overseas yet leave our poor to fend for themselves. With the activity in Uganda though, I am no longer surprised. They are using Uganda as a prototype nation for religious dominance in a sectarian government.
“My question is where and how did the United States breed such distasteful and evil people? Like Teddy Kennedy asked of the Senate,
DUSA, We can only hope. That is why I put the Psalm 9 scripture in there. They claim their God is an awesome God and they are going to find out just how awesome he can be and not in a good way.
Did you hear about the church who gave away at least a million in prizes yesterday at Easter service? Really? That is how they celebrate holy week?
And I do know where Marie Antoinette and her king landed, at least their heads.
Great article. Even Henry Ford, hardly a bleeding heart liberal, was of the mind that his workers by gosh better be paid enough so that they could afford his products! Too many current CEOs, and the politicians they own, think nothing like that. American industry hollows out while Indonesian and Vietnamese factory workers take home a dollar a day sewing buttons on brand fashion goods that will cost more to the rich, vain and easily swayed-by-image purchaser than the workers could afford to spend on a house. Ford would be appalled, as all thinking people are and should be.
Thanks WTS, the “slave labor” is another fetish of mine. It just infuriates me. When Kathy Lee was caught I thought we might have some change, but it was under the rug and let’s go on as usual. It happens here in the US with migrant workers as well. They bring up undocumented workers specifically to work for a pittance and the workers are so afraid of their status, they seldom speak out.
Sue, thanks for yet another terrific article with a strong emphasis on justice and compassion. You are a treasure!
The concept of a living wage does need to be revived; you’re so right. And so does the concept of organizing into strong unions! The most prosperous periods of our recent history (for the working/middle class) have been when unions were powerful.
It’s disheartening, at times, to talk to today’s workers about unions. For starters, they have no idea of what unions (whether they belong to one or not) have done for them already. The 40 hour week, overtime, breaks, vacation time, grievance processes and much more were the result of bargaining! They weren’t always “just the way things are.”
I’ve heard people say: “All unions are corrupt.” Or: “They just take your money in dues and do nothing for you.” How well people have been brain-washed. Has there been union corruption? There certainly has. But do Americans (Puritans that they can be) need to, once more, eliminate an entire organizational entity because it’s not perfect? What is wrong with working to fix corruption rather than picking up one’s dainty skirts and running, screaming, away from it? It’s the equivalent of saying: “politicians are corrupt so I’m going to stop voting.”
It’s time to get our hands a little dirty and “grab a mop.”
Thanks Kes. You are right and I could not have said it better. My husband belonged to the IBEW and that union does so much for their members. We now have a comfortable pension and healthcare for retirement, the union did that. My husband worked for 30 years for Pacific Gas and Electric and never once had to go on strike, the Union did that.
The only grievance I have with unions is that some of their members keep their jobs w/o performing up to the same standards as other members. They do not have a true pay for performance, but then I come from a management position in the financial industry.
It is the “dumbing down” of Americans that you speak about and the Right is only too happy to keep their voters like that so they do not have to answer the real policy or “scandal” questions.
Excellent article sue. That’s why when people think this is just another economic down cycle they are so wrong. It’s a slow steady decline since guess when? The Reagan Revolution.
Notice the uphill blip when Clinton was in office? His administration produced 23 million jobs. Of course the dot.com bubble had something to do with that.
Yeah income started to level out during Clinton but because of the bubbles first dotcom and then real estate nothing was sustainable.